Jill Guardia gave this presentation at the Sales Enablement Festival in October 2021.

Without a sound strategy, good sales enablement is really a non-starter. But how do you implement a good strategy? That's really the most crucial question and that’s going to be the main topic of this article.

A good strategy can really be the secret sauce in your enablement mix. But highlighting the right one is no mean feat.

Here’s a breakdown of our main talking points:

  • What is strategy?
  • The three levels of strategy
  • Finding the time to think long-term
  • The importance of charters
  • The benefit of frameworks

But before we get in to our main strategies, here's a bit of background on me:

About me

My name is Jill Guardia, Executive Director of Enablement at TriNet. We’re one of the leading professional employer organizations in the United States. We’ve been around for 30 years. A long time for a startup, right?

We service HR needs for small and medium-sized companies. I've been at TriNet for almost five years now, and before that I held a number of enablement roles in a variety of other companies, mostly in medium and larger sized companies, software and technology firms.

I've built sales enablement teams in four different companies, and I’ve grown with the industry. Initially, I came to this job with a sales training background and before that I was a customer technical trainer; so I've been in the training industry for many years.

Today, I run a team of experts who help make sure that hundreds of sellers have the skills and knowledge necessary to do their job. I consider myself a practitioner, a creator, a guide, a mentor and career builder.

What is strategy?

Before we get started talking about what strategies might be right for you, let’s strip it down to basics and define what we mean by a strategy.

This is what Michael Porter wrote a Harvard Business Review article back in 1996: “Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position involving a different set of activities encompassing:

  • The few broad needs of many in a small market
  • Broad needs of a few customers
  • Broad needs of many customers in a narrow market
  • It requires us to make trade offs. Deciding what you're not going to do is as important as what you are going to do.
  • It needs to fit within other company activities.”

It has to be unique and valuable

I think most of us here agree that a key aspect of a good strategy is that it must be something unique and valuable.

Manu Melwin Joy, Professor of Management Studies in India, defines strategy a little bit differently. He suggested that strategy is about “deciding where you want to go and how you'll get there.” It's a declaration of intent: this is what we want to do, and this is how we intend to do it.

These definitions are slightly different, but maybe the best way forward is to take the best elements of both and put them together.

We're unique and valuable, we’re recreating impact and value, and we have a solid idea of where we're headed. The start of this strategy always starts with that first idea: that light bulb moment! But we have to be able to build on that.

The three levels of strategy

Now, although separate departments may deal with different aspects of a strategy, obviously all departments have to be unified behind a vision. It’s important, then, to clearly establish the different levels of the strategy. Let’s outline them below. 👇

The corporate strategy

Of course,the corporate strategy isn't something that all of us are going to be sitting in on. But if you have a good C-suite, they're gonna go out of their way to make sure that all departments are in on the strategy.

The corporate strategy is going to be focused on broader organizational concerns, the revenue stream, churn rate, the bottom line etc.

If all other departments are not privy to these concerns, the whole thing has the potential to fall apart.

Departmental/team strategy

Each individual team is obviously going to be pretty focused on their own metrics and goals. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this. Obviously, if an individual team focuses too much on issues outside of their own jurisdiction, we’re all in danger of stretching ourselves out a little thin.

What’s most important is that the individual team is in alignment behind the broader goals and that they’re acutely aware of how their KPIs and goals contribute to the overall picture.

The bridge analogy

Each department is contributing to the overall design of this bridge to the future every day. The bridge analogy is helpful in many ways.

Firstly, because there are many different parts to it, each department needs to be in alignment in order for the whole thing to stay upright. We’re also talking about something that has to be planned out over time. There needs to be a vision of what it’s going to look like in the long-term.

In the past with sales enablement, people have become too fixated on short term solutions, or with simply trying to fix things that are broken. For example, today we might be focused on getting sales comms for a meeting tomorrow.

Or maybe we’re looking to coach reps who are looking to potentially leave. In a nutshell, we're all pretty busy, and we don’t have much time to think about how we’re gonna build to the other end of the bridge.

Slow down, take a breath.

I know it’s hard, because in a large organization, it often feels like we're always putting out fires. But if we’re continually in panic mode, we can’t continue to build. It’s so important to practice mindfulness when we’re thinking about implementing long term strategies.

This is a fundamental change of mindset that can be really difficult to snap into. It’s something that has to be practiced every day. The irony is that you’ll be able to fix things much more quickly if you just take the time to slow down and think things through.

Finding the time to think long-term

How many of you get stuck in an endless cycle of meeting after meeting after meeting? We’re running from one fire to the next, maybe burning the midnight oil, catching up on emails, etc. This friction is really what’s holding us back from focusing on the strategy side of the business.

Be protective over your time

One of the first things you can do is simply create blocks on your calendar. These are protected blocks where you’re going to participate in some valuable thinking time. You’re going to put those stressors to one side for a few minutes .

I often use those blocks in the morning when the mind is fresh. The most important aspect of this is that you should never compromise this time. No matter how pressing other issues seem to be, you should hold on to those times to be mindful.

Develop ‘stop time’

This is particularly challenging for sales folks. People who are in sales are often drawn to the fast-paced nature of the job. But you know how it is, there’re always those tasks that you would love to be able to get done in an ideal world. But with a busy schedule, we just can’t ever seem to get to it.

It’s important to ask yourself and your team that crucial question: If you could stop time right now, what would you do with it? The reason why this is helpful is that it allows you to take stock of what’s really important to you. What is the ‘ideal' situation for your team? Then we can start to develop strategies.

Develop a network of your resources

Think about all those connections you have, both personally and professionally. Look at your LinkedIn and start to categorize it based on who your influencers are. These are the people who will really be able to get your message out there to the world. You need to think about how you can tap into and utilize those influencers.

Think about decision makers. Maybe those are leaders within your own organization, or they’re other people within the company.

Or maybe they’re people you know in your life on a personal level, someone you attended college with, for example, who could become a powerful professional ally.

The goal should be to build up a network of advocates who can act as a voice on your behalf. But once you’ve done this, the work isn’t nearly done.

Leverage your network

Once you've created that network, you need to think about how you're going to leverage it. Find a way to collect and input feedback. We have a senior rep council here at TriNet. We meet with those senior reps every six weeks. Usually, we get anywhere from 6 to 20 Different senior reps showing up.

It's an opportunity for us to listen really closely to what’s going on. We come with an agenda of topics, but we also take the time to go through topics that they’d like to discuss. The answer is usually in the field.

Three crucial metrics of a good strategy

The key question is, what's going to make your team, your results and your deliverables more competitive than the next guy? Those are the three essential tenets of a good strategy. Be sure to plan on how to leverage your resources, skills and competencies. Develop a long term view of your goals which is beyond what’s happening next week. You can’t build your bridge to the future if you never stop putting out fires.

The importance of charters

If you've been in the industry for some time you probably will have heard about the value of an enablement charter. A charter can help with the following:

  • Establishing requirements and definitions of who you are
  • Establishing where you're going to put your energy
  • How you're going to get there
  • Educating others on the value and plan around your department or team.

Of course none of this is going to mean anything if you don’t…

Continuously review your charter

There’s no point in having a charter at all if you don’t consistently reference it on a regular basis. If you’re going to have a charter at all it’s important to keep it front and center of what you’re doing.

Print it out, put it on your bulletin board, review it every three or six months, and just make sure that your business hasn't changed so much around that your charter no longer holds weight.

The final result

The final goal of any charter is that it enables you to keep your team and your leadership aligned to your priorities. It won't necessarily provide you with a long-term strategy, but it will give you a sense of where we should focus our priorities, and this is always a solid basis for a solid strategy.

The benefit of Frameworks

On top of a charter, a framework can really be an added benefit to your organization. All you can see, there are many different kinds of frameworks you can use. 👇

An image showing various sales enablement frameworks

From Gartner to Forrester, there's a lot of well known frameworks out there. Of course, the trick is that yours has to fit with your business. In a nutshell, a framework is an extra layer on top of your charter that helps get things done with more repeatable, consistent results.

On top of the strategy goals in the charter framework, there are also levels of enablement maturity that you need to think about.

Enablement maturity

There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to your enablement maturity. You might be a team of one who's just joined a company that has had no enablement structure until you joined.

So you may well be going about enablement in an ad hoc position. Here, you’re going about it from a more tactical standpoint.

In this case, your organization may be at the perfect level of maturity for you.You don’t necessarily need to shoot for this level of strategic enablement, where you're doing performance consulting and a high level of coaching.

At TriNet, we’re probably a combination of both approaches. No matter how much you try to carefully plan out a strategy, there is always going to be room for ad hoc maneuvering.

We can’t predict or plan for everything. Having said that, having that conversation with your leadership team to talk about your vision and the future is never going to hurt.

To wrap up – some final thoughts

Firstly, be intentional about how you show up every single day. Don’t just go at it on autopilot, be curious, ask questions, and participate when you're at the table. You should be thinking about how your presence impacts your organization long term, and how that fits with your organization’s long term goals.

Secondly, we’re talking about adding strategy to your mix, not throwing everything out. Remember strategy is your secret sauce. It’s likely that a lot of your enablement practices are already pretty solid.

Remember that we’re building a bridge from the past to the future, not tearing the past down.

Build your charter. Your charter will act as your compass of where you want to go. Your strategy won’t spring fully formed from it, but it will help you to establish who you are, which is a solid foundation for your long term strategy.

Finally, assess your resources. Look at your team, your technology and your connections. What do you have? What do you need? Are your people skilled or do they need more training?

Try to put all of this together to help put you on the path for implementing some good strategic discussions, thoughts and direction into your overall enablement plan.